Partners for Progress Therapeutic Equestrian Center 

PFP Staff and Team

Diane Helgeland, Executive Director and Founder

Diane is the Executive Director and Founder of Partners for Progress, NFP. She received her BA in Special Education from Illinois State University. Some would say Diane was driven by life to the world of service and horses. Her brother was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome as an infant. In an era when most individuals with special needs were institutionalized, her parents chose to bring their son home and raise him with their other children on the family dairy farm. Her family experience led her into teaching Special Education. While raising her young family she ran an equine boarding facility for over 15 years. Her children became interested in horses and soon competitive, championship riding. Always eager to learn and help, Diane wanted to assist her children with their riding goals, this led her to acquire training skills from some world class riding instructors.

Diane took her knowledge and began to train students of her own. She became Level I Certified with The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA). She has been a therapeutic instructor for over 20 years working with children with mental illnesses and at-risk teenagers. “Our mission is therapeutic programs for riders with disabilities. We believe our clients come here for functional gains. My passion is being in the arena and doing programs that make kids work that much harder. I love every part of it.”

Amanda Braden

Amanda is an Occupational Therapist and the PFP Program Director. She received her BS in Occupational Therapy from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She completed her field work in Hand and Upper Extremity rehabilitation and pediatrics. She holds NBOCT (National Board for Certification Therapy) licenses in both Illinois and Wisconsin. She has a Level I Certification with The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), specializing in the horse as an intervention tool and facilitator of mental health patients. Amanda holds a Level 2 Myofascial Release certification through John Barnes courses.

Amanda began riding horses at the age of 5 and showing competitively at the age of 9. She has represented the State of Wisconsin at the American Quarter Horse Youth World show and won numerous awards including American Quarter Horse Congress (AQHC) Grand Champion and Hunter Under Saddle, Hunter Hack, and Equitation Over Fences Grand Champion.

In addition to being PFP Program Director, she has worked within schools for over 5 years as an occupational therapist and assists families through the IEP process. Amanda is an active advocate in the equine therapy world. She developed Therapeutic Goal Writing and first presented it at the 2007 North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA, now PATH International) Region 7 Conference. She has presented numerous times at industry events on the Importance of Documentation to Therapeutic Riding and Effective Horse and Rider Pairing. “The use of equine therapeutic intervention is second to no other treatment modalities in the therapeutic world, the use of the horse is a critical tool that allows for the greatest challenges to be overcome and promotes engagement in everyday life for our clients. It is a privilege to be part of such an effective therapy on a daily basis.”

Anne Margaret Huffman

Anne Margaret is the Director of Community Relations. She has a BA in Advertising and Marketing having studied at Loyola University and Northeastern University. She always had a love for horses and rode for leisure. It was no surprise when her daughter showed an interest in horses. Anne Margaret’s daughter has Autism. Her daughter has been a rider at PFP for over 12 years. “I have seen the difference these horses and this therapy can make for a child with Autism. It is this therapy that has changed my daughter’s life forever, pulling her out of the “darkness of Autism”. Her daughter is now looking at the potential of an independent future, possibly in the area of design media.

Jamie Herwald

Jamie is a Master Level Path Certified Therapeutic Instructor and Certified Equine Coordinator. Jamie holds a BS from the University of Wisconsin, Parkside in Management Information Systems. Jamie was first introduced to therapeutic riding when she was 13 years old. She started as a volunteer leading horses and side walking. While still in high school she started teaching the classroom portion of group sessions. Upon graduating from college, she knew her passion was with horses and helping others. She joined Partners for Progress full time as an Instructor, Equine Manager and Volunteer Coordinator. Additionally, Jamie coaches the PFP show team that competes in AQHA and NSBA horse shows and the PFP Illinois Special Olympic Team. “I enjoy working with all our riders and volunteers and watching them grow in our environment.”

Karen Kepski

Karin is a Speech/Language Pathologist. Karin received her BS, in Anatomical Sciences, from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and then a MHS, in Communication Disorders/Speech-Language Pathology, from Governors State University. Karin began riding at a very young age and fell in love with Barrel Racing. Karin is unsure what, where, and when she became interested in becoming a therapist. In 2001, Karin was introduced to Hippotherapy and Special Olympics (Equestrian Division). In 2004, Karin received her NARHA Registered Instructor Certification. In 2009, Karin was part of the inauguration of Bravehearts at the Bergman Centre where she received her Level I and II Hippotherapy Certification. “I believe each child is a unique puzzle, never straightforward, and is always an opportunity to learn. This is why I am a strong advocate of Hippotherapy - it incorporates many systems of the body that a traditional setting is unable to replicate.”

Marle Novatnik

Marle is a Path Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor. She received her BA in Communication from Purdue University. Marle began riding at age 12 with a saddlebred trainer, where she spent a decade learning the discipline and working up to teaching and an assistant trainer title. Towards the end of high school, Marle was introduced to PFP through another volunteer and eventually became a lesson therapy assistant (LTA). She continued to work as an LTA on and off through college, while studying speech therapy. During this time, she learned horses have something to offer everyone. Upon graduating college, she became an accredited instructor and has been teaching since. Marle also assists the PFP show team at shows around the country. “I enjoy seeing how the riders are impacted by the horses, teaching the students to become confident equestrians and watching them shine in the spotlight at a horse show.”

Amber Suarez-Christensen 

Amber is an Occupational Therapist. She received hers BS in kinesiology and psychology from Elmhurst College. She has her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. Growing up in Chicago she did not have access to horses but was always fascinated by them. Upon learning about Hippotherapy she became certified as a Hippotherapy instructor. Amber is eager to continue on with her learning and education and will pursue her doctorate in the therapeutic values of utilizing Hippotherapy in occupational therapy. “I have always been fascinated by horses and Hippotherapy allows me to combine all my passions”

Kimberly Metnick

Kim is a certified clinical instructor and a member of the American Physical Therapists Association. She is a graduate of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine. Kim has a special interest in patients with neurologic diagnoses, balance disorders, autism spectrum disorder, genetic, and developmental disorders. She has taken additional education courses in NDT techniques, Myofascial release, muscle energy techniques, pediatric yoga, kinesiotape, orthotics, pediatric gait courses, sensory integration, and orthopedic courses. She is a certified yoga instructor for children with special needs and has been practicing physical therapy for 20+ years. “I always enjoyed working with children and through physical therapy I have the opportunity to work with children and their families, and help children reach their highest potential.”

Annette Shaffer 

Annette is a Path Certified Therapeutic Instructor. Annette received her BA from Old Dominion University, Norfolk Virginia. She is a certified Registered Behavior Technician. She started working with horses at the age of 6. She rode and showed horses at the 4H level all throughout high School and into her adult life. She is currently a full-time employee of Lake Zurich School District 95’s special education program. Because of her extensive work with students with behavior needs, she was certified as a Registered Behavior Technician. Her certification allows her to work directly with District 95’s behavior analyst, who serves students in need of behavior interventions. She brings both experience working with horses and working with students with learning and behavior needs to PFP. “I am honored to be a part of such an amazing program. I see firsthand the progress many of the clients make each week.”

 Cassidy Kushner

Cassidy is a Speech and Language Pathologist. She received her BA in communication disorders from the University of Connecticut. She holds her Master’s Degree from Northwestern University in Speech Pathology. She began riding horses while in preschool and continued ride and compete through high school. She won the Morgan Dressage Training Level Junior Exhibitor World Championship as a senior in high school. As she learned more about therapeutic horseback, she realized therapeutic riding would be a perfect way to combine her love of horses and her knowledge of speech and language disorders. Cassidy also works as a speech pathologist in the field of special education at a therapeutic day school.

Alec Martin

Alec is a lesson treatment assistant. He studied Agricultural business at University of Wisconsin–Platteville. Alec has been around horses most of his life and a horse lover since the age of 2. PFP has a personal connection for Alec as his little brother was a client at PFP for many years. Alec started volunteering at PFP at the age of 7. Over the years Alec has ridden for pleasure and competitively. Although his profession is in the insurance and medicare industries Alec still finds time for his passion of working with horses and clients at PFP “Over the years, PFP has blessed me with continued friendships and those whom I consider extended family.”

Heather Strzelecki 

Heather is a lesson treatment assistant. She is currently finishing her junior year in high school and plans to pursue a veterinary career. She has been riding horses for 10 years, starting in the hunters but moved onto western pleasure after three years. She has been volunteering for PFP since 2015. “I love working with the people that come in, it is a rewarding experience to watch them grow and see the impact PFP has on them. Working with all the different horses is an awesome opportunity for me as well.”